While the focus for the Jacksonville Jaguars right now is on the quarterback position and coaching staff's steadfast refusal to start Blake Bortles, another rookie, wide receiver Marqise Lee, deserves attention in fantasy circles.
Lee has been inconsistent this preseason, not catching a pass in two games and getting called out by head coach Gus Bradley after the opener against Tampa Bay, via Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times Union:
I think that’s one of those things we’re looking at – it’s the consistency. Run your routes [like the football] is coming to you. You can’t change speeds. You can’t choose when and when not to. I’ve told you before that I’ve seen him switch to where he’s more focused.
I’d like to visit with him about what happened [Friday]. He did play good, but he could have done some things even more precise. It wasn’t exactly where we need him to be.
Whatever Bradley said after that must have worked, at least for one game, because Lee had a touchdown catch late in the first quarter and finished with 27 yards on four catches. Overall, it's not a day you mark down, but there was progress.
In the third preseason game against Detroit, there was more frustration than progress. Lee had just 10 yards on three catches. He also made history by drawing the NFL's first abusive language unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, via O'Halloran's Twitter feed:
Our first "abusive language" penalty awarded to Marqise Lee.— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) August 23, 2014
All of this is to say that Lee is, for better and worse, looking like a rookie. There's always a period of adjustment that happens for young players in the NFL. Getting used to the speed and physicality of the league doesn't happen overnight.
Fantasy owners in need of depth at the wide receiver position would be wise to give Lee a fair chance, while being able to display patience. There's a reason he was regarded as a first-round talent, ranking 28th on NFL.com's Top 100 draft prospects, with NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock saying this:
Keep in mind, Justin Blackmon -- their first-round pick from a couple years ago -- is indefinitely suspended. The Jaguars aren't expecting anything out of him. The Jaguars needed a wide receiver and for Lee to be available at pick No. 39 is a bonanza for this franchise.
The mention of Blackmon brings about another reason Lee has great fantasy upside in 2014. The Jaguars are running out a group of unproven and untested wide receivers. Allen Hurns is all the rage right now after posting 100 yards receiving and a touchdown against Tampa Bay, but he's also a rookie.
Cecil Shorts missed three weeks of practice with a hamstring injury and has been plagued with injuries throughout his career, missing at least two games in each of the last three years. Allen Robinson, another rookie, is also dealing with a hamstring injury.
Who will be Jacksonville's leading receiver in 2014?
The point being that someone on the team has to catch the passes coming from Chad Henne this year. Lee is intriguing almost by default, because he figures to be on the field a lot when the season starts just due to the rash of injuries to everyone else.
Don't expect many 100-yard games right off the bat, but a few games with 50-60 yards and a touchdown here or there are going to raise his stock. By the end of the year, Lee should be acclimated to the speed of the game and use his precise route-running to his advantage.
You don't have to be a burner to be an effective NFL wide receiver. Lee's 40-yard time at the scouting combine was a pedestrian 4.52 seconds (h/t Garry Paskwietz, ESPN.com), but his in-game speed has always looked faster and being in the right spot at the right time has always been his greatest weapon.
Eventually everything will fall into place for Lee. Fantasy owners will have to exhibit patience in order for the former USC standout to reward them, but it will be well worth the wait considering how late you can get him in fantasy drafts right now.
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